Sunday, 14 February 2010

Fact and Fiction

Pottery and tea have been partners for quite a while. Tea drinking was introduced to court in 1662 by, Charles II's wife the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza whereupon it became V fashionable
Meanwhile the British East India Company traded opium produced in colonised India with China in exchange for tea, making fortunes as the "middle man", culminating in the disastrous Opium Wars of 1839-42. John Barrow wrote in the Quarterly Magazine of 1836: "… it is a curious circumstance that we grow poppy in our Indian territories to poison the people of China in return for a wholesome beverage which they prepare almost exclusively for us"
Along with the fashion for drinking tea chinoiserie flourished. To meet the ever-growing demands of the tea market , the Chinese manufactured decorative porcelain services in traditional patterns, for bulk export to Britain along with the tea. Soon oriental tea services bearing typical elaborate, yet naive patterns were all the rage but what to do if part of a valued Canton tea or dinner set was broken? Breakages were a tragedy, as pieces were virtually irreplaceable, unless one was prepared to wait up to three whole years for an order to return from China. Seeing a potential new market, local potteries began producing Chinese styled wares.
The above book is filled with anecdotes related to the history of both tea and ceramics as well as charming engraved illustrations of tea related paraphernalia.
A.S. Byatt's book (which was recommended on Shannon Garson's blog) is on the other hand a novel set around the time of the arts and crafts movement concerning pott'ry politics and aesthetics which puts ceramics at it's centre. It is full of details regarding taste and technique of the time. One of the advisers on ceramics for the book was the inimitable Eddie De Waal.